The rogue-like genre is undergoing a bit of a resurgence at the moment, with new titles popping up with surprising regularity. Dodge Roll’s Enter the Gungeon is one such title, sticking very close to its rogue-like roots. Where Enter the Gungeon sets itself apart though is in its unabashed creativity and clever use of theming. In sticking close to the rogue-like formula, how does Enter the Gungeon stand in comparison to its contemporaries?
If you weren’t tipped off by the title, Enter the Gungeon has a very simple concept underlying all of its core components: guns. While this may seem like a contrived theme in the current market, Gungeon manages to make it feel fresh in a rather unique way: guns are everything. Guns, and by extension, bullets are the story, the setting, the weapons, the enemies, and one of the characters. It’s almost overwhelming to see such an all-in approach to theming, but Dodge Roll have managed to imbue their game world with such unbridled creativity and charm that it creates an immediately appealing and endearing atmosphere. Though the story is minimal, it serves as an effective companion to the gameplay. Each playable character has a reason for entering the gungeon, and each has a unique ending, but that’s about the extent of the story’s reach.
That feeling of familiarity and comfort is immediately thrown to the wayside as soon as you begin your descent into the gungeon, though. The gungeon is an unforgiving place for the unprepared. Its labyrinthine structure holds many secrets and obstacles, and with five floors to dive through, it’s an uphill battle all the way through. Enemies are diverse in their design and attack pattern, with each individual creature posing a unique threat. With such an ardent focus on guns and projectiles, that pattern extends to the enemies. Some of the more difficult encounters are akin to the bullet hell genre, requiring tight reflexes and a keen eye to avoid damage. Learning how to deal with the enemies in your way is essential, as a single mistake can quickly sour an entire run. Bosses appear at the end of each floor, and will put your skills and equipment load out to the test. As varied and interesting as the common enemies are, the bosses dial everything up to eleven and unfailingly present a gripping encounter. You’ll see screens filled with projectiles, and you’ll witness some unpredictable and clever AI designed to catch you off guard. All of the bosses are intimidating, beautifully designed and incredibly dangerous, just as a rogue-like boss should be.
The question becomes, “What equipment do the characters have to survive?” Each of the characters present a very similar playstyle, and the freeform nature of a rogue-like means that the advantage of your character at the end of the run will be vastly different to the beginning. Your choice in character essentially governs your play style in the first area, but not much beyond that.
By far your biggest combat ability is the dodge roll. This is available to use at any time with no real drawbacks, allowing you to quickly re-position and avoid enemy fire. The beginning of your dodge roll includes a generous window of invulnerability, so you almost always have a way out of a tight spot. It’s tight and responsive, and highly dependent on player skill. Improper use of the dodge roll can put you in more danger, and the unrelenting force put forward by some enemies makes this an essential skill to master. The environment of the gungeon is littered with tables that can be flipped at any time with the push of a button to create cover. It’s a simple and intuitive system that can be used to give you the upper hand, but again, misuse can be dangerous. Certain enemies also have the ability to create cover in this way, though it can be destroyed under sustained fire. The controls as a whole are incredibly tight and responsive, whether you choose to use a keyboard and mouse or a controller. The control layout is simple and intuitive, and it’s always a sheer joy to play.
As you venture through the randomly-generated rooms of the gungeon, vanquishing your foes in each room to access the next, you may come across a locked chest. These chests contain one of a vast range of items, including passive buffs, new active skills, and of course, guns. All of these items are creatively designed, with each providing a unique benefit. Passive skills range from altering ammo properties and enhanced reload speed to spawning bees upon taking damage. Active skills are similar, though the player is generally locked to one at a time. The fun really begins with the guns. Each and every single one of the hundreds of available weapons is incredibly unique, charming and thoughtfully designed. Whether you’re shooting lasers, ants, missiles, boats or anvils, every weapon feels satisfying to handle, and each has its own use. The player is allowed to carry as many weapons as they see fit, though they each carry limited ammo.
With the fast, fluid action and incredibly satisfying gunplay, the gungeon is an absolute delight to explore. The environments are highly detailed and littered with interactive elements. The number of different room configurations is somewhat limited though, so you may see certain areas repeated over different runs. The five different floors of the gungeon present a unique window dressing, alongside a rapid increase in difficulty, but they don’t do much to introduce unique elements. A casual run will take roughly an hour, though be prepared to sink a lot of time in getting to know the game before getting that far. Fortunately, even failed runs have a benefit, as defeating bosses and interacting with characters within the gungeon can unlock additional pieces of equipment and challenges for subsequent runs.
It will take many runs to see all that the gungeon has to offer, particularly given the obtuse nature of some of the secrets. You’ll need to keep a close eye on the environment and the enemies around you if you want to see all there is to see, and unlock all there is to unlock. Witnessing the ‘true ending’ is a particularly arduous goal, as it requires the collection of three seemingly inconspicuous items before the end of your run. While the game can still be completed without this sub-task, it seems a little bit too obscure to be intuitive. The hidden characters are similarly obtuse, but if you have a keen eye for detail, and a great degree of patience, Enter the Gungeon has plenty of rewards for your curiosity. If you’d prefer to explore with a friend, local co-op is an option. It functions identically to the solo component, though the second player is locked to a specific character.
If you’ve also got an ear for detail, there’s a lot to appreciate in the sound design of Enter the Gungeon. The soundtrack consists largely of high-energy techno tunes, but there’s a great level of depth to the audio, and it manages to perfectly evoke the feel of the surrounding gungeon. This is further aided by the crisp sound effects, which add a certain weight to all of the on-screen action. Enter the Dungeon does a great job of conveying information to the player using non-visual elements. You’ll hear enemies spawn in well before you see them, and most are easily identifiable by the sounds they make. Similarly, each weapon has a unique set of associated sound effects, so you can easily identify your weapons and their ammo usage by the sounds they make. It’s a very welcome touch, and it shows a great level of attention to detail by the developers.
That level of detail and care shines through in all of the smaller touches also. The gungeon is littered with teleporters that activate as you clear rooms. By opening the map, which is accessible at any team in a safe area, you can quickly and easily teleport to any of the available locations, from anywhere in the gungeon. It allows for quick and painless backtracking, and given the open nature of the gungeon maps, this greatly streamlines the exploration process. The map itself is incredibly handy, giving a quick rundown of the explored area and any items that each room currently holds. There are so many little quality of life features like this that make Enter the Gungeon such a refreshing, enjoyable take on the rogue-like genre.
With all that Enter the Gungeon does right, it’s difficult to find faults in its creatively-crafted façade. It’s got the brutal difficulty, varied equipment and skills, engaging setting and intricate details that are essential for rogue-like success, coupled with an incredible degree of polish and quality of life features. If anything, it plays the rogue-like card a little bit too strongly, as there’s not much here for those uninterested in the genre. If you’ve played any major rogue-like before, you know what to expect from Enter the Gungeon, and it manages to deliver in spades.